ALBANY —With COVID-19 infections in New York state expected to peak within the next two weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo detailed his administration’s continuing efforts to prepare for the surge in patients at downstate hospitals.
COVID-19 coronavirus infections could peak in as soon as seven to eight days, Cuomo said.
“We’re not there yet but we are getting close,” he said
As the projected apex of the virus draws near, the governor said it feels like a lifetime has passed since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early March and compared the state’s efforts to fight the virus to a war.
“You go to war with what you have, not what you need,” he said at a press conference Saturday morning at the state Capitol. “At one point, you are where you are and then you have to do the best with what you have.”
Cuomo announced ventilator donations were being made and provided details on how volunteer health workers will be vetted and assigned in the coming weeks.
More than 113,000 New Yorkers have tested positive for COVID-19, with 27 cases in Greene County and 57 cases in Columbia County as of Saturday.
The majority of new COVID-19 positive cases and deaths are in the New York City and Long Island areas, with the rate of infection upstate remaining constant, the governor said.
Columbia County marked its second death on Thursday when Clara Rochester, an elderly resident of Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, died at Columbia Memorial Hospital.
Of the state’s 3,565 total deaths from COVID-19 so far, 2,624 have been in the New York City area and 941 have been upstate, said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor.
As COVID-19 patients increasingly overwhelm New York City hospitals, Cuomo said his top priority is making sure the 2,500-bed temporary hospital at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan is staffed and equipped to handle new patients. Although the Javits Center site was originally set up to treat patients who do not have COVID-19, the pop-up hospital will now treat COVID-19 victims.
“That will relieve a lot of the pressure on the downstate system,” he said.
Cuomo asked the White House to speed up work on the Javits Center pop-up hospital, which will be funded and managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], he said, adding he did not say when the facility would begin accepting patients.
Calling the Javits Center “a significant relief valve for much of downstate,” Cuomo did not address plans to relieve pressure on downstate hospitals by transferring some patients upstate. State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker was also present at the press conference but did not comment on upstate transfers.
Capital District hospitals have accepted more than three dozen individuals with COVID-19 from New York City in the past week. The governor’s office is providing logistical support to transfer patients upstate, local hospital officials said at a press conference at Albany Medical Center on Friday.
Albany Medical Center officials have been in constant contact with Zucker, who supports the transfer of COVID-19 patients to Capital District hospitals, said Albany Medical Center President and CEO Dr. Dennis McKenna.
“The sending hospital themselves are identifying the need, but [Zucker] was aware of it, and he said ‘send them,’” McKenna said.
Cuomo also announced the state is the recipient of ventilator donations from two Chinese billionaires and the state of Oregon. Jack Ma and Joe Tsai, the founders of the Chinese conglomerate Alibaba, have donated 1,000 ventilators, and Oregon is lending the state 140 of its ventilators, Cuomo said.
The donations come as health officials warn that the state could be facing a severe ventilator shortage. The state has been unable to procure ventilators on the open market, despite efforts by state officials, Cuomo said.
The state placed an order for 17,000 new ventilators, but only 2,500 have arrived, he added.
The governor provided an update on the process of vetting and distributing health care volunteers to hospitals in need. Eighty-five thousand people have submitted their credentials so far, with 22,000 of those from outside of state, he said.
“We have a vetting process internally, about 175 people vet the prospective volunteers,” said Jim Malatras, president of SUNY Empire State College, who oversees the online portal to track medical volunteers. “We check for licensing and we check for disciplinary problems. Often the hospitals will also do their own vetting as well.”
About 20 hospitals have already requested and received medical volunteers, he said.